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Sunday, September 15, 2013

1 Coach Corey's Corner: 10 Tips to Set the Stage for a Great 5K Race


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This post was inspired by my friend, Ken, who'd asked for some 5K race day tips yesterday. So, here's some free coaching advice for those racing the 5K distance, whether it's their first 5K or their 50th:

1. If possible, do a dry run of the race course to familiarize yourself with the "lay of the land," so to speak. Being well-informed and well-prepared helps to instill confidence on race day. It's a psychological thing: Typically, the more "knowns" (versus "unknowns") you create, the more at ease you will feel; it's a good technique to help "settle" the mind on race day as well.

2. Pace yourself. That might sounds obvious but a 5K is all about the pacing. It's a fast race -- a 5K is typically over before you know it! -- but nonetheless, pacing yourself properly can actually be trickier than it might seem. So, hold back a bit in the beginning, so you have enough steam left for the last mile. It can be very tempting to take off like a shot at the starting line due to the surge of adrenaline and competitive urges that kick in when you're surrounded by fellow racers, standing in line waiting for the race to begin. However, when it comes right down to it, everyone runs their own race. The trick is to take control of those competitive feelings and adrenaline and use them to your advantage; this way, you'll be able to keep them under wraps a bit at the starting line and then release them around the last mile to help push you to the finish line and "take it home" for a nice strong finish.

3. Arrive there on the early side and keep your legs warmed up and limber by running around a bit before the race starts. Nothing fast, just a light jog. You can even do this in the parking lot or if there's on a nearby road or sidewalk.

4. Get up early to give yourself enough time to digest your breakfast, preferably finishing your last bite 2 hours beforehand. This will help to settle your stomach (especially if you're experiencing any pre-race "nerves") as well as give your body enough time to "process" the food you eat.

5. Don't wait too long to hydrate before the race. Your body will be pumped with adrenaline, so it's not uncommon to have to make multiple pit stops before a race. So, try to reduce this by hydrating at least 2 hours beforehand to allow your body enough "processing time." :)

6. The week of the race, be sure you've been hydrating and fueling properly all week-long. Good sports nutrition is vital to help you prepare for a strong performance on race day, and that doesn't just start the day before, or the day of, your race. Your body will thank you for it on race day. :)

7. Set the stage for a good race by telling yourself you're going to crush it! Placing yourself in a confident and uplifting headspace will help you to visualize yourself being successful. Say to yourself, "I am going to go out there and give it my best effort and will have a great race." Or, "I am going to go out there and kick some major tail!"

8. Focus on landmarks in the near distance to help keep you going. The next tree, the next house/building, the next sign pole -- whatever helps keep you going. This keeps your mind focused squarely in the present, and also keeps you from thinking about how far you have to go. Some people like to focus on the back of the runner's head in front of them, to try to catch up to them and then pass them. :)

9. Remember to breathe regularly and focus on your stride. The first suggestion might seems like an obvious thing, but thinking about both of these activities during your race will also help keep your mind in the present, not to mention that they'll help you pace yourself and also keep tabs on how your body is doing. Use a running mantra to help you even out your stride and pace. One of my favorites is "long, strong, stretch, stride," which helps establish a regular rhythm to your stride (essential for pacing yourself) as well as creating a nice strong, elongated stride. It also helps to calm the mind and relieve any race day anxiety. Plus, it bolsters your confidence and creates mental prowess by instilling good thoughts and feelings about your running as well. :)

10. Keep your mind in the present and keep it focused on uplifting and encouraging thoughts. Here are some techniques to help you to accomplish this: Enjoy the scenery around you, smile at the runners to your left and right, use techniques #8 and #9 above, and last but certainly not least, remember to enjoy the racing experience itself. Even during a race, running is like a moving meditation. It creates awareness of everything around you, which can heighten the experience and hopefully, your enjoyment of it. By keeping your mind in the present and remaining conscious of your environs, your body, and your thoughts, you will also develop the necessary mental strength to push yourself and keep your body going strong, right across the finish line. After all, when you run and race, it's essentially mind over miles, even for a 5K. :)

Good luck! Now go forth and conquer that 5K race!

Friday, May 3, 2013

2 Coach Corey's Corner: 15 Tips for a Long and Healthy Running Life


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I know I still have to finish part 2 of that last article. It's currently sitting in draft form, and I'm sure I'll get to it at some point, but right now, I'd like to move on to another topic. I'm training a new client today who's relatively new to the sport and have given him a list of tips that I'd drawn up for this express purpose. (This is standard practice for new clients.) I thought I'd share that list here to help benefit others runners. Although the advice is geared towards newbies, experienced runners can benefit from it too. We all sometimes need reminders to refocus on the basics to help keep our running balanced and safe. :)

15 Tips from Coach Corey for a Long and Healthy Running Life:


1. Wear running sneakers, not tennis, crosstraining, walking, or basketball shoes, etc. Running sneakers are sports-specific for a good reason (i.e., to support/aid proper running motion, etc.). You can easily avoid a lot of injuries by wearing sports-specific shoes, and by running in the right running shoes for your feet and running gait. If you need guidance in this regard, check out the many articles I've written on this blog on how to determine your running gait and select the proper running shoes.

2. Replace your running shoes every 300-400 miles. Whenever possible, alternate running shoes to extend their life and help them retain their shock-absorbing capacity.

3. If you're going to run barefoot, take it slow when building up mileage. If you've never run barefoot before, your feet aren't going to be used to the differing running mechanics and the "wear and tear." Your feet need time to adapt, particularly since you are strengthening new areas of your feet that you haven't really used before, that is, until now.

4. Wear wicking, non-cotton socks and apparel (made of wool or synthetic fibers) to keep moisture away from your skin, which can help prevent chafing (mostly caused from perspiration and rubbing), blisters, and Athlete's Foot.

5. Protect yourself and your extremities in the heat and the cold. If exercising outdoors, dress properly for the weather (keep in mind your body warms up by approximately 20 degrees during running) and don't forget to wear UV skin protection. It's important to wear it all year round. The sun can still be strong in overcast weather.

6. Wear a head-lamp when running at night. Not being able to see your path can result in accidental injuries (from stumbling, tripping, falling, etc.). It's also a good practice as a general safety measure too. On that note, be sure to wear reflective gear as well.

7.  Gently and slowly warm up before running and carefully do a warm stretch after the warm-up and also again, when you've finished. This will help to prevent post-exercise stiffness and injury.

8. Avoid getting gung-ho about your workouts: Resist the temptation to overdo it -- too much, too soon, too often, too fast, too hard, too little rest, etc.

9. Don't change things that are working, i.e., your training plan, running shoes, etc.

10. Increase mileage slowly and use the 10% rule as the maximum increase for mileage per week. If you're finding the increase particularly challenging or it's creating physical problems for you, drop your mileage by 5% every third week before resuming your mileage amount from the previous week to aid in recovery.

11. Take care of yourself: Get the proper sleep/rest, etc. Eat healthy foods in the correct portion amounts, and be sure to properly fuel and hydrate your body for exercise.

12. Inject some variety into your workout plan: Crosstrain for diversity, which helps you avoid burnout and overtraining, and for its physical fitness benefits, i.e., strengthening and also resting your non-running muscles.

13. Do full-body strength training 2-3 days per week, alternating with a recovery day in between any two strength training workouts. Or, if you work different areas of the body on different days, be sure not to work the same muscle groups on consecutive days. This is an area that's often neglected by runners, but if you strength train on a regular and consistent basis, it'll make you a better runner and will help prevent injury. Be sure to ramp up slowly and don't overdo it.

14. Don't neglect sports nutrition, particularly recovery nutrition: Consume a 4:1 carb to protein drink &/or meal within 15 minutes of finishing a workout, especially a long or hard one. Be sure to replenish fluids and electrolytes lost during exercise.

15. And last but not least, pay attention to your body. Don't ignore pain or foolishly try to push through it. Pain isn't the same thing as soreness; it's a signal that something is wrong. Rest when appropriate and go to a doctor if the pain persists.

Monday, December 31, 2012

2 Coach Corey's Corner: Effective Strategies for Achieving Your New Year's Health & Exercise Goals, Part 1


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As this year comes to a close and we look forward to the start of a new year, it's only natural to think about what we want to accomplish in 2013. And not surprisingly, many of those goals are health and exercise related. :)

For those of us who've already integrated regular exercise and healthy living into our existing life patterns, this means we're simply renewing our commitment to our ongoing exercise and eating plans, while setting even more ambitious goals to reach along the way. We might need to tweak our plans here and there, but for the most part, we know what we need to accomplish and how to do it. And then we just do it, because we've already got the ball rolling. Now, we just need to make sure that it's still rolling in the proper direction. ;)

For those of us who are still trying to establish these healthy patterns, this is the time to start anew, to make a brand new commitment to our health, and to set our lives upon a different course. For people who are entering the world of fitness and healthy eating, perhaps for the very first time, this is a period of discovery; there are a lot of new things to learn -- not just about nutrition, exercise, eating, etc., and how to incorporate this new knowledge into their own lives, but also about themselves and what they are capable of doing.

This is also the time to reexamine the goals and plans from the previous year, particularly the ones we didn't quite get off the ground, and figure out how to make them happen. :) This is the year, we tell ourselves. This is the year we're really going to make those goals happen. This is the year we're going to significantly change our lives for the better.

Sure, all of that sounds really grand and oh-so-motivating and inspirational, but of course, it's not what we say about our goals that matters, but rather what we do about them. :) In truth, all of our lofty goals are just theory and speculation until we begin taking steps towards making them a reality. This is exactly why this article is entitled, "Effective Strategies for Achieving Your New Year's Health & Exercise Goals." :) You'll note that the title includes the word "goals," and not "New Year Resolutions." That's precisely because the point is NOT to forget them soon after you make them. ;)

If we're only crowing about our goals for show, either to delude -- er, I mean convince ;) -- others or worse, ourselves, then our earnest proclamations of our intentions are nothing more than empty words. So, let's not kid ourselves this time around. Instead of simply vowing once again to accomplish the same exact things we'd promised ourselves we'd do in previous years but have still barely even started, let's actually achieve what we set out to do this time. Let's live in reality, evaluate the lessons of the past and apply them to the present, so we can have a healthy future. :)

One of the reasons people fail to achieve their goals is that they set goals so big and lofty that they become completely overwhelmed by them. Or, they set out to do too much too soon. Or, they give up too soon. :) However, this doesn't have to be you this year. You can be smarter than that. You can turn your failures on their head by changing the way you look at them. Instead of getting lost or mired in them, which will only hold you back, use them as opportunities to grow and learn, and to build character and resilience. And then incorporate these lessons into your "instruction set." (Alert, geek reference. ;) ) In truth, your own life is really a guidebook if you know where to look for the lessons. :-D

This time, give yourself a realistic time frame in which to achieve your goals. Be flexible and reevaluate your course of action when significant factors change your time frame, goals, or the outcomes themselves. Learn how to roll with change. Only take on as many goals and tasks at a time as you can reasonably manage, and learn to push back and say "no" when it all gets to be too overwhelming. Be kind to yourself and others when you fail, and don't give up when you meet the first obstacle. All of these qualities are part of the M.O. of a decent and successful person, whether in life or in sports.

Regardless of what you set out to accomplish, one thing is certain: You will most likely encounter resistance or face failures at various points along your way. So, instead of being surprised and thrown off by obstacles, expect them as part of the path towards your goals. Allow them to be part of the learning process (i.e., your growth curve), and you'll be able to roll with the punches a lot more easily. How else do you think people grow and learn? :) Advancement comes when we allow our internal fortitude to become bigger than our obstacles.

In fact, those who struggle the most to reach their goals often learn and improve the most as well. So if you really, really want it, don't expect it to come easily. Expect to work hard, on a regular basis. If you want the bragging rights, you've got to put in the blood, sweat, and tears. :) Any truly worthwhile goal is worth the work it takes to accomplish it.

Also, on that note, don't expect miracles to happen overnight. Significant change comes not necessarily through singular bold action, but through small, steadfast steps done regularly/consistently over time. After all, a big achievement is just a stack of little ones piled on top of one another. :)

So how do we ensure that this really will be the year we succeed?! The answer is simple: by setting goal-specific directives in motion. And that's what part 2 of this article will cover. :)

Friday, December 21, 2012

0 Martial Arts and Running: Balancing the Yin with the Yang :)


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As I mentioned in previous post, I'm now enrolled as a student at a martial arts school, in addition to my other exercise activities. I'm currently taking (Northern Shaolin) kung fu and t'ai chi there, and at some point, will probably also toss in a kickboxing class here and there. After some trial and error, I've had to shift my schedule around a bit, but now think I've found the perfect balance to fit everything in. I was originally going to lift on my off-days from martial arts and running, but as I soon discovered, that wasn't feasible. After doing lifting on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and then doing martial arts and running in between, I noticed that, not only was I dead tired, which of course wouldn't be permanent [it takes time to acclimate to a completely different form of exercise (i.e., martial arts) than I'm used to doing], but my muscles were staging an out-and-out coup that only a fool would ignore.

Kung fu, in particular, develops strength (among other attributes), and of course, so does lifting. This means that, as I soon realized, I was actually doing back-to-back full-body strength training workouts from Monday-Friday, which is definitely not a good idea. Full-body strength workouts should be done every other day to allow your muscles time to recover, repair, and rebuild. And by following a workout schedule such as the one outlined above, I wasn't giving my muscles (particularly my lower body, triceps, and core) any recovery time at all. Well, there was hardly any recovery time, since I only took one day off (Sunday).

So, I decided to lift immediately after my martial arts classes instead. My muscles were already warm, and it was actually a heck of a lot easier to lift after class than on the days in between. And so, I switched my strength training days to Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and decided I'd run on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays instead. On Friday, I also do a HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout while I'm at the gym, but doing back-to-back cardio isn't as much of a concern.

Things started off well, and I began by keeping to my 6-days-a-week workout schedule. However, I've noticed that there are days in which I'm still fairly tired and sometimes just not in the mood to run, so on these days I'll motivate myself to exercise by doing other fitness activities. I'll hike, walk, cycle, etc. I clearly love to run, but lately, I just seem to be gravitating to other things. My runs, when they do happen, are typically fairly short (2-3 miles) right now. Once April rolls around (i.e., after The Athlete's Cookbook fitness photoshoot wraps), I'll shift back into serious race training mode. Or, at least that's the plan right now. :)

In truth, lifting is a bit boring, but it gets the job done. Plus, between that, the kung fu, and the 7 Weeks to 10 Pounds of Muscle nutrition plan I'm now following, I can really see some significant improvements -- my lean muscle mass is increasing and I'm getting stronger all over, and of course, that'll pay big dividends when it's time to go out for a run. :)

It's interesting to compare all of the activities, because what I'm getting out of each of them is so very different. And I'm not just talking about the obvious physical fitness benefits either. However, there is some overlap. In some ways, long distance running combines some of the feelings I get from both kung fu and t'ai chi, but at different phases of the run itself. For example, I feel really energized after kung fu, like I could take on the world. That's the feeling I often get from running, i.e., the "runner's high." However, when I run, that euphoric feeling almost always comes during the run, whereas in kung fu class, I notice that this feeling happens most commonly after class. That's why it's so easy to go and lift after kung fu class. My energy levels skyrocket and I feel like the Energizer Bunny. :) Boing, boing, boing! It's honestly hard to stop. :)

There's also this factor: I'm naturally a night person, so it probably doesn't help that kung fu class gets out at 8:30 pm. However, a lot of us typically stay a half hour later or more to work on our forms some more, stretch, &/or do more bodyweight exercises. And then of course, we also chat a bit afterwards too. :) So, in reality, I get out of class closer to 9 pm, or if I chat with other students, sometimes it can be even later. ;) So, by the time I get to the gym it's often closer to 9:45 or 10 pm. Then, I lift for an hour and get back around 11 pm or if I'm really time-conscious, then sometimes a bit before. Sometimes the lifting calms me down and other times, I'm still wired afterwards. I've been trying to get to bed before midnight, and lately, I've been so tired, that it's usually not very hard to do that. :)

As for t'ai chi, it does share some common elements with running, in terms of its meditative qualities and aftereffects. It's considered to be an internal martial art, (except for the chen style of t'ai chi, which is more external). It still requires strength, balance, and coordination, like kung fu, but unlike kung fu, its movements are very slow and controlled. It gives me a feeling of inner calm, but I also feel alert and energized in a gentle sort of way. Or, in Chinese terms, t'ai chi helps to build, well, chi (qi). :-D Qi (or chi) is the Chinese word for "life force." Basically, it's energy, but there's actually a whole lot more to it than that. Qi can be a pervasive force that not just flows through one's body but also connects all sorts of life forms to each other. In fact, if your hands are red after doing t'ai chi, then it is said that are producing and circulating qi. Your blood is certainly circulating at any rate. :) Also, various martial arts forms can produce qi, not just t'ai chi.

The feeling I get after doing t'ai chi is somewhat similar to the feeling I get either during or after a long distance run, in that it's that calm, rhythmic, meditative state where you almost forget that you are moving. The big difference is that running is a natural motion, whereas some of the movements in t'ai chi are not, or at least not at first, and take years of practice before you can attain a certain level of flow. The foot, arm, and torso positions, the various stances -- they all take a lot of practice to learn and master. Even so, there are times in both activities when I turn inwards (I'm a very internal runner by nature anyhow) and will just exist in the moment. Running requires a natural presence of mind, just like t'ai chi. This is why I like running on trails. Not too many traffic crossing involved, so you can just experience the run on so many different levels -- mentally, physically, spiritually, etc. But you can still be aware of your environment at the same time. Sure, you are breathing and putting in effort, but through it all, your mind is just there, almost in a suspended state. You're just letting your thoughts flow and on some days, when you're having a really good run, your body also seems to almost floating along too, just doing its thing. This is also where peace and joy are often found. (Geez, now I sound like a Christmas carol. Lol.)

To my mind, all of these activities really enhance each other in so many different ways.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

0 Looking Back to Look Forward: A Really Honest Post, Part 3


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OK, this is the last in a 3-part series of posts about social media and the running community. (If you didn't catch the first two posts, click here and here to view parts 1 and 2, respectively.) After reading the first two, this one will seem a heck of a lot shorter in comparison. :)

So, now that I've reflected upon the state of the blogosphere as it applies to the development and historical timeline of the online community, as well as my own personal experiences as a participant in that sphere, it's time to look forward.

What will happen to blogging as social media evolves? Will it still hold a relevant place amongst all the other competing forms? As humans seem to have a never-ending, inner need for storytelling and sharing information, I can't see blogging going away any time soon, even if it no longer holds the same place in the consciousness of the Internet.  Sure, it doesn't have the same sense of immediacy as other types of social media like Twitter, Facebook, or Google+, but it has something else going for it: You don't have to reduce your thoughts to a soundbyte. :) Blogging allows for complexity as well as a more complete array and depth of thought. And that's something you can't get from Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. :)

Of course, this very human need to share and tell stories applies to the world of running as well. Many, if not most, runners seek to connect with other runners, either on a person-to-person level, or to commune with their thoughts. As we read, we put ourselves in their shoes, go through the motions as they experience trials and triumphs in their training, compare notes, and/or gain insights that help us see things we might've not otherwise have noticed. Simply put, we blog and read other runners' blogs because we are human. Because we are motivated not only to share, but also to discover new facts, updates, and revelations, both through others' words and our own as we write.

Sometimes writers, through their perceptive observations and their eloquence, are able to give voice to the the thoughts and feelings about similar running-related experiences we've always wanted to say, but just haven't as yet been able to find the words. That can be a very powerful moment, which has the ability to not only move us but also inspire us as well. Many of our experiences that we write about are universal and yet somehow also remain distinct.

As we share our stories about our running journey and the information we learn along the way, we provide a framework for a collective of knowledge and wisdom, and we pass all of that along to other runners through blogging. We read to seek what motivates other runners, what makes them tick, and to learn how they went about accomplishing their goals and dreams, so that we too can find a pathway to do the same.

The future of blogging is much like our own: no one can be quite sure what the future will hold except for the new paths through uncharted territory that we create for ourselves. :)

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